They went from a string of flops to two of the hottest records of the 1960s in the space of three months. The Supremes were the toast of America in the second half of 1964 and on October 31, they hit No.1 there for the second time in just ten weeks, with ‘Baby Love.’ By November 19, it was on top across the Atlantic as well.
The Holland-Dozier-Holland classic was released as Motown 1066 in the US just three weeks after “Where Did Our Love Go” had finished its two-week reign on the Hot 100. The earlier song had glided to the top of the chart in just eight weeks, but “Baby Love” made that seem like a crawl.
The song soared to the summit in five weeks, moving 51-26-12-6 and then, on the October 31 chart, made a stand against the new British invasion by ending Manfred Mann’s two-week reign with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”
The long arm of Motown
The Supremes’ Motown labelmates Martha and the Vandellas were still in the Top 5 that week with “Dancing In The Street,” which had spent the previous two weeks at No.2. The Four Tops were easing down the chart at No.24 with “Baby I Need Your Loving,” and there was further Tamla representation in the Top 40 from Marvin Gaye, up a place to No.29 with “Baby Don’t You Do It,” and the Temptations, falling to No.38 with “Why You Wanna Make Me Blue.”
Listen to the Best Motown Songs Ever playlist.
“Baby Love” stayed at the summit for four weeks, and by mid-November, it had bumped Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” from the top of the British singles chart. By that time, in the brilliantly-orchestrated and unswervingly creative Supremes discography, it was already being succeeded by what would be the third of five consecutive pop No.1s in America, “Come See About Me.”
Mary Wilson told The Guardian in 2014 of “Baby Love”: “We recorded the song live with some of the Funk Brothers, the name given to the pool of Motown musicians. James Jamerson played bass on all our stuff, Hank Cosby played tenor saxophone, Mike Terry the distinctive baritone saxophone solo and I think Pistol Allen was on drums.
“‘Baby Love’’s distinctive beat was people footstomping on the floor. [Holland-Dozier-Holland] would just grab whoever was around. Motown was such a creative environment like that. I remember, one day, Mr Gordy saying: “I have this nine-year-old genius coming in,” and little Stevie Wonder proceeding to play every instrument in the studio. Nine years old and blind. Motown was like Disneyland and we felt privileged to be there.”
Buy or stream “Baby Love” on the Supremes’ Gold compilation.